Tuesday, December 20, 2011

YPOIW TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2011: 20-16

With 2011 coming to a close, YPOIW would like to take the week to showcase our favorite releases of the year. Monday through Friday will be a countdown of our top 25 favorite albums of 2011, starting with spots #25-21 on Monday and continuing until the final #5-1 on Friday. This weekend, we'll also be taking a look at some albums that we feel deserve an honorable mention but didn't quite make it on our list. Thanks for reading, and most importantly, enjoy!

20. Oneohtrix Point Never - Replica
It's always a weird thing when an artist makes a significant change in sound between albums, especially when they announce that change beforehand. Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, first described Replica as “an electronic song cycle based around lo-fi audio procured from television advertisement compilations.” For anyone who had spent any time with the ambient analog synthscapes of his discography up to that point, this statement was likely to raise some eyebrows. But instead of alienating most of his fan base, Lopatin released what is quite possibly his most fully realized and ambitious album yet. Deriving source material merely from a series of 80s TV commercials, Replica without question takes one of the most unique approaches to sampling I've heard in a while. Hooks and melodies are crafted from some very unlikely samples, but they still manage to sound and feel seamless. Bringing his analog synthesizers into the fold as a complement to the samples provides the harmonic backbone necessary in order to truly complete the picture. As a whole, Replica showcases Lopatin's dedication to a strong aesthetic, but it also shows his willingness to take giant leaps beyond his already established strengths. It works as a successful hybrid between plunderphonics and ambient music, and thus carries a very distinctive voice in both genres. Like I said in my review of this album, many artists who work to invoke feelings of the past forget to push things forward, but Lopatin triumphantly does both. -Danny Spiteri


19. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath 1972
I can't stress how much I appreciate when an album feels like one singular flowing experience rather than a series of independent tracks. Not only does Ravedeath, 1972 nail that beautifully, but it manages to maintain a consistently crushing atmosphere throughout that makes some albums that trump it in noisiness feel underwhelming in comparison. It feels weird to describe an ambient album as "crushing", but unlike much other ambient music, Ravedeath sports a heavy combination of sonic layering and cinematic disposition. Moments of piercing feedback and distorted drones coupled with the album's leaning toward minor keys make for a very dark and intense mood. I'd hardly describe Tim Hecker's music as "noise music", but instead something like "noisy ambient", a seamless infusion of noise and glitch elements into ambient/drone music that welcomes attentive listening just as much as it makes for pleasant background music. I found myself enjoying the album more and more each time I listened to it over the course of the year, and with each of those listens I was able to discover subtleties I could never have picked up on my first listen.

The progression Hecker makes from album to album can be subtle, but it most definitely isn't negligible. Though 2009's An Imaginary Country was a much more toned down follow up to 2006's opus Harmony in Ultraviolet, Ravedeath, 1972 is sort of a return to form. Still, the album found Hecker experimenting enough with new ideas to keep it from sounding like a step backward in his trajectory. Beneath the prominent electronic production is Ravedeath's sonic foundation: audio from an organ that was recorded in an Icelandic cathedral. This choice of instrumentation truly lends a sense of cohesion to the album, and ultimately is what ties all the tracks together. With Ravedeath, 1972, Hecker solidifies himself not only as one of ambient music's most consistently interesting figures, but easily one of it's most forward-thinking, innovative, and utterly unafraid to push boundaries. -Danny Spiteri


18. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is the album I needed.  It was the soundtrack to my 2011 in many ways, “Midnight City” was everywhere, the band popped up on a couple late night talk shows, and it breathed life into a post-LCD Soundsystem electronic music world. This record does so many things right, I love the self-referencing, with riffs and patches re-occuring all over.  I love how layered it is, with every listen revealing another gem.  Somehow M83 managed to make a dense, long, double album without it being overblown and cheesy.  The highs and lows are pulled off with the mastery of a world-class DJ, and yet it manages to have all of the emotion of Bon Iver collection.  No easy task.  Boasting some of the best production you’ll hear all year, this CD is simply stunning, throwing so many things at you that in can be disorientating, and then drawing it all back in with an instrumental slow-burner.  Give it a chance, listen to it at length, and enjoy the journey that M83 wants to take you on. -Josh Custodio


17. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
Kendrick Lamar may be a fresh new face to the hip hop scene, but he will not be forgotten any time soon. After the release of Section.80 and his guest verse on Drake’s latest LP, he has shown that he has legitimate staying power in the music community. Lamar has harnessed the consciousness of Tupac with the fantastically produced hooks of Kanye West, all through the power his own memorable flow. Section.80 itself begins the album by telling us, “Fuck your ethnicity.” Not only is this opening track a catchy diatribe simultaneously against our divisions and a sad acknowledgement that society frowns on those divisions, the whole album has society in mind. Section.80 is like a good book, and its literary reference is obvious with song titles like “Chapter Six” and “Chapter Ten” for the corresponding tracks. The storyline is not always clear, but it is always engaging. Outside of Lamar’s impressive message and lyricism, his strength lies in his flow, his voice, and his production. Listeners will remember “No Make-Up” and “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” via their message supporting women’s issues. Listeners will sing along to “The Spiteful Chant” and “Fuck Your Ethnicity.” Listeners will hum along to the fun game-show sounding samples of “Hol’ Up” and “Rigamortus.” The jazzy sample of “Ab-Souls Outro” works perfectly in context. Single-quality tracks like “HiiiPower” and “ADHD” could get a lot of radio play with more label backing. Section.80 is special because Lamar has mastered the balance between serious art and commercial appeal. –TJ Duane


16. James Blake - James Blake
James Blake is completely original.  That is a hard thing to say about many artists whose full-lengths premiered this year.  His haunting voice over piano-driven songs combined with dubstep flourishes are truly one of a kind.  This self-titled album is hollow and cold, exactly as it needs to be. His surprisingly soulful voice soars over these tracks, no easy task, given the sheer force of the low-end on this album. “To Care (Like You)” is one of the most interesting songs of the past couple of years, combining chipmunked soul vocals, electronic tendencies and James singing over all of; it is this level of unfamiliarity that keeps me coming back to this album.  When you want to listen to James Blake, nothing else can satisfy. He is an innovator, and is developing his own genre which I suspect many will try to emulate in the coming years. He is a talent, and I suspect he’s in this business for the long haul. -Josh Custodio

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